House of Commons Hansard #180 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was families.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year, the Prime Minister and his Liberal government decided to give nearly $400 million of taxpayer money to bail out Bombardier, which is a Montreal-based aerospace firm here in Canada. As a Conservative, of course, I disagree with this use of taxpayer dollars to rescue a private corporation from its own financial mismanagement, but that is beside the point. What is on point, however, is the fact that while Bombardier was wailing about the possibility of going under, the company was simultaneously giving large bonuses to its executive members.

One might ask what Bombardier has to do with autism, the topic at hand today. The answer is simple. In their 2017 budget, the Liberals cut funding that was supposed to go toward the formation of the Canadian autism partnership. The partnership requires a modest $19 million over the course of five years. That is less than $4 million per year. That is less than half of what the Bombardier executives are currently making in bonuses.

The government that says it represents the middle class is in fact taking money from the middle class to give big payouts to companies like Bombardier and its top executives. We are actually taking money from the middle class and giving it to the wealthiest among us. Meanwhile, the Liberal government cannot seem to find $19 million, which is a meagre amount, in light of what I am talking about with regard to Bombardier, for those families that need it most, those that are impacted by autism.

To be frank, I believe this is an injustice, not only to these families but to all Canadians, not because all are impacted by autism but actually because society functions best when all of its members are given opportunities to reach their full potential.

In Canada right now, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. This number actually goes to one in 48 among boys. More than 500,000 Canadians are living with autism today, and it is the fastest-growing and diagnosed neurological disorder in the country.

Autism is a brain condition associated with poor social skills and has a wide range of symptoms, including communication difficulties; social and behavioural challenges, including obsessive behaviour; and hypersensitivity to sound, light, or other sensory stimulation. While the autism of a computer scientist might go unnoticed, at the other end of the spectrum, one-quarter of those with autism are entirely non-verbal.

Autism is a condition that defies simple generalizations. It is not a condition for which we can put people in a box and define them one way or another. Like all individuals, those who have autism have their own personalities, interests, skills, abilities, passions, and potential.

I want to focus on potential. Canada is a land of potential. It is a place where we bring refugees in from all over the world to give them the opportunity to realize the raw potential that lies within them. Every Canadian deserves this opportunity. Like you and me, those who live with autism possess greatness within them. They are intelligent, they are creative, and they are lively, and there is something wonderful in each of them to give back and contribute to this great country we call home. However, unfortunately, their potential often goes untapped.

About half of those with autism are of average or above-average intelligence, yet very few actually graduate from high school, and of course, even fewer go on to complete post-secondary education. Approximately 25% of those with autism are employed, and only 6% are competitively employed. These numbers are very concerning to me, because they represent a tragic loss, a loss to our society, when we could actually be benefiting and enjoying the potential of each of these individuals if they were given the right support.

Sadly, hundreds of thousands of people actually live rather idle and isolated lives, because they are forced to do so. Families struggle to know how to best support their loved ones, because there just are not the resources or the research to back up those resource developments. These families are actually in significant need of help. The help they are asking for at the moment takes the form of the Canadian autism partnership.

Do these individuals not deserve more? Do they not deserve an opportunity to function at their greatest possible potential? Particularly in light of the Bombardier bailout, I believe this is a very small and common-sense request.

What are my Conservative colleagues and I are asking for? We are asking that the Minister of Health acknowledge that individuals with autism and their families face very unique challenges in life, and these challenges span over a lifetime. They often result in a crisis situation due to the condition, and families then have to deal with those.

Furthermore, as I stated earlier, autism is not just a health issue for the individual and his or her family members and loved ones. It actually has overarching implications for Canadian society as a whole. My colleague, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent said earlier that this was not an autism issue, that this was a Canadian issue. He said it well. It is not something that we can just put on those families or those individuals who have to wrestle with autism and find the necessary supports in order to live a life with autism. It is not just on them. The onus is on us as a society.

To be quite frank, the loss is ours as well. Again, these individuals possess such great potential.

Accordingly, those of us on this side of the House are calling on the government to grant $19 million over 5 years, as requested by the Canadian autism partnership working group, Self-Advocates Advisory Group, and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance. We are asking for this in order to establish a Canadian autism partnership that would support families and address key issues such as information sharing and research, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment government.

Mostly, we are calling on the government to believe, as we do, that those who live with autism have tremendous potential and should be empowered to function according to the greatness that lies within each and every one of them.

In 2015, the Conservative government provided $2 million to support the development of a Canadian autism partnership. A working group was created and it was mandated to come back to the government with a proposal for best steps forward. Over the course of 16 months, it did just that. At the end of 2016, it made a proposal for the 2017 budget.

The request of the working group was moderate and reasonable. The working group asked for $19 million over five years. With this money, a national partnership would be formed between organizations from coast to coast. The focus of its work would be to represent the entire Canadian autism community, speaking with one voice and acting in unity to assist this community in living vibrant lives.

Sadly, the current government chose to ignore this noteworthy request and the work that was accomplished by this group. It struck its request from budget considerations.

This is very disheartening. We have the opportunity to support a grassroots initiative, where more than 5,000 individuals gave their feedback on what this partnership should look like, and were willing to do the groundwork. We also have the opportunity to empower people to reach their full potential. We also have the opportunity to support the vulnerable. We also have the opportunity to facilitate an environment where all people are given equal opportunity to prosper.

Our Conservative government, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, believed in the potential of those who lived with a disability. I will name a few thing we did during our time in government.

We increased the landmark registered disability savings plan. We invested $218 million per year for labour market agreements for persons with disabilities. We invested $30 million annually in the opportunities fund to help persons with disabilities prepare for and obtain meaningful employment. We supported caregivers and recognized the incredible contributions they made by creating a tax incentives. We provided $15 million over three years to the ready, willing and able initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living in order to connect persons with disabilities to a job. We invested $11.4 million over four years to support the expansion of vocational training programs for persons with autism spectrum disorders. We removed the GST and the HST on more health care products and services. Last, we expanded tax relief under the medical expense tax credit.

We believe in the potential of each and every individual, including those who live with a disability. We call upon the current government to believe with us in the potential of those who live each and every day with autism and their family members, who need the assistance of the government through this partnership.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

Last June, we introduced an ambitious process to consult people with disabilities. We consulted different groups more than 18 times as part of nine round tables. In total, we consulted nearly 6,000 people, including representatives of ASD organizations. We also met with independent groups, in each of our offices, which ensured that we had a very good understanding of autism.

In her speech, my colleague opposite mentioned a few figures. The amount of $19 million keeps cropping up and some members opposite said that the cost is 10¢ per Canadian.

We, too, have some figures. What about the $39 million invested in health research? What about the $5 billion invested by our government in mental health, which also affects autistic people? What about the $77 million we have invested in accessibility?

Can my colleague make comparisons with those figures?

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I give the hon. member's government credit for the steps it has taken to increase accessibility. The consultations that have taken place are commendable.

I find it interesting and quite curious that the government likes to talk a lot about consultation, saying that it has been consulting and that it is launching another consultation. It is interesting that it has held nine round tables and feels that somehow covers the entire country, therefore we are good to go. I do not know if that is as deep or as broad a consultation that is necessary to come up with the policy and legislative initiatives to serve all those who live with a disability.

Nevertheless, the topic at hand today has to do with the autism partnership. This working group came together and collectively put this ask forward to the government. It is a moderate ask of $19 million over the course of five years, which is less than $4 million per year. However, the government shut that down. Meanwhile, it somehow still found money in its purse to give $400 million to Bombardier and its executives.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, people living with functional limitations often lose specialized services or financial benefits when they reach the age of majority.

People with any type of disability often live below the poverty line. I would like to know whether the member intends to work with the NDP to ensure that people with autism do not lose the services that help them live above the poverty line when they become adults.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the question at hand has to do with the Canadian autism partnership and whether the government will move forward and honour the request of this grassroots initiative, and the phenomenal work it has done to support families that live with autism. That is the question of the day. My question for the government is whether it will follow through with this initiative, which is noteworthy and worthy of celebration. This group is deserving of the funding in order to support these families.

With respect to the member's question as to whether we, as a Conservative caucus, would be willing to work with the NDP on future initiatives with respect to autism, that would depend on what those initiatives were. However, we hold an open hand and definitely want to serve the communities with people living with disabilities. Therefore, we will do all we can to do that well.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country B.C.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation.

It is a pleasure and an important challenge for all of us to discuss the motion tabled by the hon. member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin related to autism spectrum disorder.

I would like to thank the hon. member for his ongoing efforts in raising awareness about the needs of individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorder. Many Canadians are dedicated in the same way in which the hon. member is, and today is a significant day on their behalf.

Dr. Glen Davies is another champion. He says that the prevalence of autism is accelerating at an alarming rate. In 1975, just one in 2,500 children were being diagnosed. Today, it is one in less than 100. He goes on to say:

The next set of solutions will be at the convergence of a wide variety of disciplines and include families, communities and a wide range of thinkers. No one group can do this alone. Communities, schools, health care systems, and governments must work together.

I believe it is in this spirit that the member has brought forward the motion and it is in this spirit that networks are being built across the country. This is precisely what the government is assessing at this time, as we engage with many groups to identify potential opportunities for partnerships and as we engage with other departments to determine where investments can best help those with autism and their families.

I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the Pacific Autism Family Network in British Columbia, which has been envisioned and built through an inclusive and collaborative process, including families, individuals with autism spectrum disorder and related disorders, clinicians, community professionals, researchers, and representatives of government within the framework of the Pacific Autism Family Centre advisory committee.

The Pacific Autism Family Centre is a family-first model. It is the first of its kind in Canada and North America. At the centre, key organizations are brought together under one roof so everyone is working together, sharing information and ultimately supporting families.

Autism BC, the oldest organization in British Columbia, is central to the hub as is the Autism Support Network, the provincial ministry of education, and the provincial ministry of children and family development. Autism Speaks is a major funder and partner, which focuses on research, and is highly supportive of this model of collaboration. The Miriam Foundation provides resource materials and information with the intent of delivering the best service to every individual. The Sinneave Family Foundation is another partner. Its vision is that every adolescent and adult in Canada with autism spectrum disorder will be supported in realizing his or her highest quality of life.

The fact of having these partners under one roof makes life so much easier for families and their children.

The 60,000 square foot centre is the vision of Wendy and Sergio Cocchia. Sergio also serves on the previous government's Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance. The province of British Columbia gave a huge boost to the centre through a $20 million capital contribution, followed by a significant capital campaign.

At the centre, there are service providers, medical and dental practitioners, and a partnership with UBC to train health care professionals, while in university, to become aware of and comfortable with people with autism. The centre has a preschool where 50% of the children are on the autism disorder spectrum and 50% are not. Behavioural analysts are being trained.

Apart from the significant funding the federal government provides to some of these research and support partners, the centre also partners with the federal government to deliver the ready, willing and able program and the employment works program. The ready, willing and able program helps employers across British Columbia to hire people on the spectrum and to sustain them on a permanent basis. The employment works program works on the other side of the equation with individuals to connect them to placement opportunities.

The Pacific Autism Family Centre is leading Canada in job placements. Having just started in January 2016, there are over 100 people in permanent positions today. It is going so well that they are being contacted daily by parents who wish to be part of this program on behalf of their children over 18. The centre also reaches out to companies to participate. For example, SAP has a mandate of hiring 1% of its staff from people on the spectrum by 2018.

The collaborative model is serving families. Informing researchers and families is the second pillar for the centre. It serves as a hub for research. Supported by first-class technology from Telus, this research model is a two-way forum so that research is going directly to families and families are informing new research. Again, this is at the heart of our government's approach.

Third, the centre is building spokes out from this hub. New smaller locations are opening in British Columbia. A small one has opened in Williams Lake and a more major one in Prince George. Bringing services together, providing access to information that is available at the central location, and expanding adult programming is very important in parts of the province, and indeed the country, that are more remote. Equal access and inclusion are critical aspects of public health and healthy communities, and those who need it most should be our top priority. Living away from urban centres presents challenges that the Pacific Autism Family Network strives to address.

The network believes that autism is a condition that affects whole communities. As such, we need an integrated solution that includes community education, teacher learning, the training of specialists, more awareness for medical practitioners, and support for siblings, parents, and extended families. Governments cannot do it alone. The Pacific Autism Family Network is about coming at this together. It is about saying, “Let us pool our resources and work with governments to get out in front of this issue. Let us be the leader and show the world how this could be done.”

For our part, the federal government is making significant investments each year to support research focusing on ensuring that children and adults affected by autism spectrum disorder and their families have the best support and treatment possible. Over the past five years, the federal government has invested close to $40 million in research through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Canadian researchers are recognized as global leaders.

At the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the autism genome project is composed of researchers from more than 50 research centres across 11 countries as the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with the risk for ASD. Our government continued to make significant investments in research and innovation in the last two federal budgets. In budget 2016, the federal government announced a new ongoing investment of $30 million per year to support investigator-led research through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. This investment represents the highest amount of new annual funding for discovery health research in more than a decade.

As I went over this speech this morning about what today's debate was on, I thought, for the most part, it would be very difficult to say which party was speaking. My Conservative colleagues talk about a shared leadership model, putting research into practice, and bringing all of the initiatives into one place, and I could not agree more. Our government is reviewing the important work of the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance to this very end.

There are other significant efforts under way. One is to create a national autism strategy under the leadership of one of the senators. Another is a major effort from the Medicare for Autism Now network to advocate for health care funding. These are important voices, too.

Members of Parliament clearly care. Today's debate is important. On behalf of the families in my riding, many of whom are leading the charge, as is the hon. member, I am confident that our government, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and other ministries involved will operate within a collaborative model to improve the lives of those living with autism spectrum disorder.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, my first comment is just to say how much I appreciate, of all of the members across the way, the preparation that went into the member's speech. Clearly, she has done her homework. She knows what she is talking about. I really appreciate that.

I have one minor clarification. It is important to clarify that CASDA had nothing to do with the government. CASDA was a coming together of the Canadian ASD Alliance and organizations on their own. It was recognition that there needed to be a voice that represented the autism community, and that was how CASDA came to be. CASDA is one of the voices calling for a Canadian autism partnership, and most of the members of the Canadian autism partnership working group are also members of CASDA.

It is interesting that the member named a lot of the organizations, including the Pacific Autism Family Network, and the Cocchias. Sergio Cocchia was a member of the 12-member expert working group. There is also Autism Speaks Canada, the Miriam Foundation, The Sinneave Family Foundation. Those are four of the 12 members of the working group. There is CASDA as well. If we talk about research, four different top-notch researchers who are part of the Canadian autism partnership were all calling for the same thing: $19 million to form a Canadian autism partnership to meaningfully inform policy at every level of government across the country.

My question is simple. Does the hon. member support the CAP?

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the clarification and for recognizing the work I put into my speech.

As you know, this is so important to Canadians. It was certainly talked about in the last election. With regard to our government's position, we are absolutely taking advantage of the great work that was done by the network and we will come forward in a way that represents exactly the spirit of this motion in due time.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before I go to another questioner, I just want to remind all members that it is a very emotional topic and it is not hard to talk across to each other, but we still have to go through the Chair.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, we have the East Kootenay Autism Society, the Kootenay Boundary Autism Society, the Kootenay Family Place behaviour support services, and autism and ABA services, Cranbrook and Kootenay. This is a very important issue to many of my constituents.

I am really trying to understand how the government cannot justify in its mind investing $19 million to help these very important organizations deliver on their services to people with autism. It is a pretty simple question.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reason I chose to explain the model of the Pacific Autism Family Network is to reinforce what I think every member of this House is saying. There are many groups. It is such a personal journey for people.

The service that we can provide to Canadians is to figure out how these networks work best together, and work most efficiently and most effectively. That is exactly what our government intends to do.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would just query that, and point out again that all of the organizations that the member talks about are working together. They are speaking with one voice. Their ask is very specific right now after two years of work: a $19 million over five years Canadian partnership.

I would specifically ask the member, will she vote to support the motion?

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, once again I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing this motion to the floor of the House of Commons today. I think it will be a discussion that is very closely watched by Canadians, those who are affected by autism spectrum disorder and by our compassionate society.

Our government looks forward to building on the strengths of an inclusive, engaged, and caring community.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I want to thank and congratulate my colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin.

Today, I have the privilege of rising in the House to speak to autism spectrum disorder. I would like to begin by talking a little bit about my interest in this cause. I had the opportunity to say earlier how close the cause of autism is to my heart. My wife has dedicated her life to teaching young people with autism, and she has been working in that field for a number of years now. My most recent encounter with people with autism was last month. I participated in the AlterGo Special Olympics in Montreal with a group of young people with autism. It was a privilege for me to accompany and support these young people, as I have done for other activities. This cause is very dear to my heart. I am here in the House to attest to that. In my opinion, we all agree that autism deserves special attention because it affects one in 68 children in Canada.

Autism spectrum disorder is widely recognized as the fastest-growing neurological disorder in Canada. There are a wide variety of symptoms associated with ASD, including difficulty communicating and social impairment. Autism is not just a health problem. It has widespread implications for Canadian society. Take for example parents' concern for the future of their children. The unemployment rate for people with autism is well over 50%.

It is obvious that we are facing a major challenge. Despite the progress the country has made in raising awareness and accepting people with disabilities, there is still a certain degree of stigmatization.

It is critical to include people with autism in our workforce, and more generally, to further include them in all aspects of Canadian life. An inclusive Canada is good for employers and good for business. Our government encourages employers to tap into the rich talents of people with disabilities. Thanks to ready, willing, and able, an initiative funded in part by the Government of Canada's opportunities fund for persons with disabilities, a good number of organizations are raising awareness and bridging the employment gap for people with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. In fact, ready, willing, and able was recently recognized at the Zero Project Conference in Vienna, Austria, for its important work.

When we challenge the stereotypes and look beyond the disability, we quickly realize the wonderful potential of people's abilities, and we contribute to combatting prejudice.

We are committed to improving the quality of life for people living with autism and their families. One Government of Canada program designed to do just that is the enabling accessibility fund. This program supports community organizations and workplaces to help improve accessibility and participation in their organizations. Our government believes in the benefits of this program, which is why budget 2017 proposes to provide an additional $77 million over 10 years to expand its activities and enable the program to support more small and mid-sized projects in Canadian communities and workplaces.

We have also provided an additional $4 million over two years, starting in 2016-17, to the enabling accessibility fund's community stream through budget 2016.

Our government is also aware of the costs of taking care of a child with a severe disability. That is why we continue to provide the child disability benefit, which is an annual amount of up to $2,730 per child eligible for the disability tax credit. This is in addition to the $2,300 average increase Canadian families now receive from the recently revamped Canada child benefit.

These are practical measures that we have in place to help families living with autism.

However, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It is unbelievable that over 50% of complaints received by the Canadian Human Rights Commission are related to disabilities. It is beyond belief, when you think about all the other possible grounds, including race, gender, and sexual orientation, just to name a few.

Most of those complaints have to do with employment. In Canada, as elsewhere in the world, barriers to employment are huge for people with disabilities. Unemployment and underemployment rates are high, which is unacceptable.

In June of last year, we launched an ambitious public consultation process across Canada. We met with Canadians and stakeholders to talk about what an accessible Canada means to them. We held 18 public consultations and nine thematic round tables from coast to coast to coast. There was an important online component. We organized a national forum for youth. We gained valuable insights from some 6,000 Canadians who told us about some of the obstacles faced every day by Canadians with disabilities or functional limitations. We heard about physical and architectural barriers that prevent people from moving about freely in their community, the persistence of certain mentalities, beliefs, and false notions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do, and outdated practices that do not take into account the obstacles to accessibility facing Canadians every day.

For the most part, Canadians with disabilities had the same message, namely that they are not second-class citizens. They are citizens who deserve the same rights and responsibilities as all other Canadians.

The same goes for people with autism.

That is just one of the reasons why we are drafting accessibility legislation. This legislation will systematically address barriers in areas under federal jurisdiction. This would include banking services, transportation, telecommunications, and of course, the federal government itself.

Canadians with disabilities have been fighting for decades. We want to address the problems head on instead of just dealing with human rights complaints after the fact. We are looking for ways to prevent discrimination and exclusion from the outset.

What can we do to change the culture and remove barriers? How can we create a fully inclusive society not just for people with autism, but for all Canadians? Can we improve accessibility and integration through legislative means?

That is exactly what this government intends to do and that is what is driving our efforts to create federal legislation on accessibility, which includes autism.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do realize my colleague is new in the House. I just want to remind him what we are talking about today. We are talking about a $19 million investment over five years, which was requested by the Canadian autism partnership working group.

To give him a little bit of history, when I came to the House in 2004, this group was entirely ignored. One of the champions was a friend of mine and a friend of this House, Senator Jim Munson, a Liberal Senator, and he really tried to focus and sharpen the pencil so that we could get some action with autism, because there was nothing out there.

Over the years, with my colleagues in the House and everybody across the hall, we worked hard to see what we could do to make a difference, because this is not just kids with autism, but it is their families, their friends, and everyone involved. The sad thing is that it was working really well.

What this motion is asking for is just to allow the continuation of that good work and expansion, because when we see something in research and see something in practical application that is working, at the federal level, it is worthwhile to continue with that.

I know the member is talking about all people with disabilities, and I respect that very much, but this is not either/or. The government makes different investments. This is something that has really worked, and all we are asking for really is a very small investment. As my colleague from Carleton constantly says, this would be less than the bonus of one Bombardier executive in order to meet this commitment to our autistic partners.

All I want to ask is whether the member would please consider supporting this great initiative.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon Liberal Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's question. I thank him for that.

I am new to the House, but in 18 months I have spent time interacting with a number of organizations and quickly gained experience during the consultations we held across the country.

I also want to say to my colleague opposite that there are people in my family who have been living with autism spectrum disorder for 16 years. It is something we talk about at the dinner table quite regularly. We have acquired rather detailed knowledge thanks to all the organizations we consulted.

I am very comfortable advocating for disability as a collective priority and drafting legislation that takes persons with autism into account.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden used to say, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” I think that is an appropriate concept to bring up here today because all day long we have been hearing some very heartfelt speeches from members on the government side about the absolute need of the autism spectrum disorder community across Canada and how they understand the needs, how they empathize with the needs, how they understand that steps have to be taken. However, I have yet to hear a single Liberal member of the government say that they will commit in the budget to giving a very small amount, $19 million over five years, to actually address that problem.

Will the member stand in the House and vote in favour of this motion to actually provide $19 million for autism in this country, yes or no?

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon Liberal Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

We take autism very seriously. We have invested $39 million in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research over the past five years. We have invested an additional $77 million in accessibility, which includes support for people with autism. Our budget also provides for a $20-million investment in neurological sciences, which includes research on autism.

When it comes to accessibility in Canada, I will be an ardent advocate for people with autism.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member could have simply said no.

I am pleased to be splitting my time with my hon. colleague the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

I am privileged and proud to stand in this House to support this incredibly important motion from my hon. colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin on a number of fronts. Professionally, I am the health critic for the New Democratic Party and I think I have acquired some understanding of both autism spectrum disorder and the needs of people and their families across this country who are touched by it, and I am the father of a child who has a different kind of global developmental delay. It is not autism but it is similar. Through her experiences, and as the parent of a special needs child, I have been exposed to the wonderful world of developmentally challenged children, teenagers, and adults. I have been fortunate enough to meet these fabulous, wonderful Canadians who are touched by a number of different afflictions, including autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, different forms of developmental delays, Tourette's syndrome, anxiety disorders, and cognitive impediments. However, I can tell members that I have never met Canadians who are more generous, more kind, more co-operative, or who more enjoy life, love their families, participate with gusto in our communities in every facet, and contribute to Canada in profoundly important ways.

I can count myself privileged to be friends with people with autism spectrum disorder of many ages. The first point I want to make is that it is not a disability but a health challenge, but with an investment of resources and funds, we can make a significant difference in their lives, no different from what we do for many Canadians who are afflicted with any number of different health conditions.

I want to review a couple of facts that put this motion into perspective. We know that one in 68 children are currently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. We know that the prevalence of ASD has increased over 100% in the last 10 years. We know that autism is the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada. We are not sure how it is caused, but we believe it is linked to a number of genetic and environmental influences. We also know that autism is an equal-opportunity condition as it occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. We know that autism is a lifelong spectrum disorder. We know that early intervention can make a lifetime of difference. We know that mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are common in individuals with ASD. We know that the unemployment rate for adult individuals with ASD is a shocking 80%. However, we also know that, with the right supports, all individuals with ASD can thrive and meet their potential.

This is not necessarily cheap. We know that treatments for those on the autism spectrum can cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. We also know that early intervention is critical, that parents with a child born with autism spectrum disorder need a quick diagnosis and access to every kind of modality and treatment that exists, as we know that can make a tremendous difference in their lives.

We know that ASD is a family condition, that moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and relatives are all touched in some way by autism. We know that, depending on their place of residence, not all affected Canadians have access to the same quality of care. We know that provincial health plans do not provide equal levels of coverage. We know that wait lists across this country are far too long for just about every family with a member suffering from ASD.

We know that there has been some progress over the last few years. In November 2016, the Canadian autism advisory group presented a final report to the health minister. It contained a proposed business plan for a Canadian autism partnership and a request for $19 million over five years, which is the genesis of the motion before the House today. However, unfortunately, the Liberal government decided against funding this partnership model, and in response, advocates have taken to social media to flood the minister and the Liberal government with over 3,000 tweets calling for full funding for this partnership.

What we need and what the motion calls for is the development and implementation of a plan that represents a comprehensive approach that would address both systemic issues and the complexities of individuals on the autism spectrum. This plan would create opportunities for many autistic individuals, along with their families and caregivers, to benefit from the efforts of decision-makers to enhance coordinated and timely support. We need to reduce the frustration and isolation that often accompanies their search for appropriate and effective intervention and care.

The motion before us and the $19 million it calls for would create many efficiencies. The plan would create a national platform for multisectoral collaboration and innovation to drive systemic change. It would foster focused, robust, and accessible knowledge translation and exchange, promoting greater efficiency of effort and resources. It would provide an authoritative access point for reliable data to inform policy development, funding decisions, and service delivery. It would increase collaboration among all segments of the autism sector, promoting broader influence on the research agenda in Canada and accelerating the time from research to implementation.

It would initiate a unique indigenous engagement strategy that would reflect the cultural values of Canada's indigenous communities and address their specific needs. It would build the capacity of northern and remote communities by providing a hub for shared information, policy, and research, as well as collaboration with more well-resourced parts of the country. It would forge effective partnerships to enable the pooling of resources and it would achieve greater equity across all provinces and territories. The motion before us is something that every member of the House should probably stand in their place and support.

I know that we are always calling for government to spend more money, but the hon. member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin put it very well the other day when he said we are talking about 10¢ per Canadian per year. That is how much it would cost for us to make a profound difference in thousands, or maybe tens of thousands, of Canadians' lives.

I want to conclude by talking about some very important people in my province of British Columbia.

I am fortunate to count as a friend Abbe Gates and her son Lucas Gates. They both have recently been hired by the Pacific Autism Family Network, and the amount of work that they have done in bringing individuals of all ages and degrees out of their isolation and in developing programs that are helping these people achieve their potential is unbelievable.

Abbe Gates is a prime mover behind creating Friday Night Friends, a group at the Hillcrest Centre, where young adults with all sorts of differences come together and socialize, including many people with autism spectrum disorder.

After having her daughter refused in her attempt to join a typical kids' soccer team, she started the Blazin' Soccer Dogs, which is a children's soccer league in Vancouver that is open to every child, of every ability, with every kind of challenge.

People in Canada with developmental disabilities are some of our most cherished people. They all are worthy of support, and I want to make a plug also for the House not to forget the many Canadians who have some form of developmental delay and not forget that these people need resources and funding as well.

We can start by voting for this motion and starting to devote more resources in this country to help Canadians reach their potential. Let us shift money to make sure every Canadian can be as healthy as he or she can be.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, literally millions of public dollars are allocated every year for autism spectrum. It is important we look at the many different aspects of health care. It was suggested earlier today that there were many other issues. I raised fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and the profound effect it had on children in my constituency, in the province of Manitoba, and in fact all of Canada.

The association approached the ministry of health and the ministry made a decision in the last budget. We have clearly indicated that the government is still engaging with many groups to identify other potential opportunities for partnerships and with other departments to determine where investments can best help those with autism and their families.

The Minister of Health has been very genuine in reaching out, trying to have a positive impact on this issue. We have seen additional dollars, far beyond $19 million, being invested in mental health. Investing in mental health helps with autism spectrum disorder, not to mention other budgetary lines.

If a member of the House chooses not to vote in favour of the motion, it does not mean the member does not support providing resources to deal with autism or fetal alcohol syndrome. It would be the equivalent of me saying the member across the way voted against the budget, therefore he voted for all the money we allocated out for those important issues. Would he not agree that all members of the chamber recognize its importance and that maybe at times we might have a different approach to dealing with it?

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, there was a lot in that question, but I will start with this.

It was the Government of Canada that in July 2015 supported the launch of the Canadian autism partnership project, which was tasked with developing a national autism spectrum disorder working group as well as a self-advocacy advisory group. This group was tasked with developing a plan and presenting it to the federal government. That was an important process because it engaged stakeholders on the ground in developing the plan. It presented its plan to the Liberal government in November of last year and it included $19 million. The Liberal government made a grave error in not accepting that.

The hon. member pointed out other sources of funding in the broad health envelope that have been dedicated by the government. That is true, but what the member is essentially saying is that enough money has already been spent. Well, this motion calls on the government to spend a bit more.

Canadians will be the judges about what a member's vote in the House means. Canadians will judge whether it was appropriate for a member to stand in the House and vote for or against a motion that calls for an additional $19 million over five years to help put into reality a plan that was developed by stakeholders across the country to help families and individuals deal with autism. If I were the member, I would contemplate that vote very carefully. I would suggest that he vote in favour of the motion if he believes this extra money is needed. I think it is.

On the one hand, we can say that the government expends money in health care and some of that goes toward autism and other important health issues. However, this is a segregated motion calling for a specific allocation of funding for a specific, well-thought out plan. Every member should look at this carefully and support it. I will. The New Democrats will. I hope Liberal members will as well.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of the Conservative opposition day motion. The NDP has long been a proponent of creating a national strategy on autism, and we look forward to the day that we have one that is more than a mere paper entity.

Canada's current approach to autism spectrum disorder has let down thousands of Canadians on the autism spectrum and their families. We share their disappointment and we stand with them in their call for action in support of the Canadian autism partnership.

We continue to see a significant increase in the number of Canadians being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, yet all across Canada, vital services, supports, and resources have not kept up with the increasing need. It is time for the federal government to finally sit down with the provinces and territories to negotiate an accord, backed by real funding, to address the lack of applied behaviour analysis and intensive behaviour intervention, also known as ABA and IBI, in Canada's school systems, and the lack of public health care coverage for behavioural treatments, and the lack of appropriate housing accommodation for adults on the autism spectrum.

The Liberal government's refusal to fund the Canadian autism partnership, CAP, at $19 million over five years is rather indefensible. While this model is not a substitute for real funding to provide essential services and supports for those on the autism spectrum, the CAP would play an important coordinating role at the national level.

The NDP believes that given the scale of the problem, it makes no sense for the Liberal government to refuse to make this small investment in so worthwhile an initiative just because it was something that was brought forward by the previous Conservative government. Of course, this refusal to fund would be entirely defensible if the Liberals were bringing forward their own well-funded and targeted national strategy, but I think we all know that such a plan is not forthcoming.

Autism is not a matter that any of us should be playing politics with. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that the previous Conservative government never got around to backstopping its own initiative with the funding or political commitment necessary to improve the service delivery and support.

As Kathleen O'Grady, research associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute in Concordia University has noted, autism does not affect Liberals or Conservatives or NDPers; it is an equal opportunity neurodevelopmental disorder that affects Canadians across the political spectrum and clear across the country.

I would like to take a moment to look at some of the specifics of autism in Canada. At this time, one in 68 children is currently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. ASD is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. It is now the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada. As my hon. colleague stressed earlier, its prevalence has increased over 100% in the last 10 years.

Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups, and is a lifelong spectrum disorder. Mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, are common in individuals with ASD. Sadly, the unemployment rate for individuals with ASD is over 80%.

Treatments for those on the autism spectrum can cost between $50,000 and $100,000 each year, yet depending on their place of residence, not all affected Canadians have access to the same quality of care. Provincial health plans do not provide equal levels of coverage, and wait-lists are often several years long. People on the autism spectrum lose access to public education and specialized services as they grow older and become adults.

Last, the most important point I would like to make is about early intervention. Early intervention can make a lifetime of difference. I heard this from so many professionals who came forward and talked to me during the election campaign. They are professionals and work with children, and were applauding our proposed early childhood affordable day care strategy, because early interventions are so much an intricate part of what a national strategy would entail.

With the right supports, all individuals with ASD and other disorders can thrive. The earlier the intervention, the more successful the outcome. We know about early intervention leading to success no matter what challenge a child may have. The earlier we can identify that a child needs support, and the earlier appropriate support can be provided at the right time and in the right way for that particular child, the more likely it is that the child will be more successful than he or she would otherwise have been. It is because they have had early intervention that we see children who are now in the regular school system and we see children graduating from high school and university.

As I mentioned earlier, New Democrats have always been champions on this issue. Going back to 2006, the NDP health critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, previously introduced Bill C-327, an act respecting a Canadian autism day, in recognition and support of the many Canadians affected by autism spectrum disorder.

We believe, however, that at this point, there have been enough studies, enough round tables, enough consultations, and enough motions debated in this chamber. As well, let us not forget the Senate. It is time for us to do something.

Anyone following this issue for any length of time can be forgiven for being just a tad cynical about the debate we are having here today. There has been everything done around this issue except for the serious concrete action required, backstopped with the right amount of funding that matches the scale of the challenge presented to us. If this is not why we are here today, then we may as well move on to something else, as I have no intention of further insulting and hurting the families, caregivers, and institutions that have been dealing with this matter for decades. These people have invested so much of their time and expertise in the real, meaningful consultations they thought they were bringing forward in the model proposed to the Minister of Health.

Canadians are looking to us for leadership and for action. That is why we are here. Therefore, I urge members to give it to them today. Let us no longer kick this particular can down the road.

I mentioned the Canadian Autism Partnership Project earlier, and I would like to elaborate on what this project entails, as I believe it is pertinent to this debate. The partnership was launched with an investment by the Government of Canada in July 2015. It was charged with developing a national autism spectrum disorder working group and a self-advocates advisory group; a comprehensive stakeholder engagement strategy; and a business plan for the implementation of a permanent Canadian autism partnership.

Since the CAPP was launched, the national working group, along with the self-advocates advisory group, has guided the stakeholder engagement process. There have been 22 meetings with 101 government representatives in all provinces and territories, 17 consultations in 14 communities with relevant stakeholder groups, and 4,371 responses to an online survey hosted by the CAPP website. Throughout the process, a special focus has been placed on the needs of indigenous people and northern communities to identify their priorities and the appropriate methods to examine meaningful responses to their service needs, both on and off reserve.

The development and implementation of the Canadian autism partnership represents a comprehensive approach that would address systemic issues and the complex needs of individuals on the autism spectrum. I believe this partnership is step one in beginning to introduce and seriously address this issue. I am proud to support it here today.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and also the previous speaker for the NDP, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has been a huge supporter of autism initiatives throughout the years.

The member made a great argument. As she stated, autism really should not be a partisan issue. One of the things she said, though, really concerned me, and I wanted to ask her about it. I have heard that one of the reasons the Liberals do not want to support this is that it was brought forward by the previous Conservative government. At the time, we got a lot of support from all parties.

This was an initiative that over the years has gotten stronger and better. What we are asking for, and what my colleague is asking for, is 10¢ per Canadian for this initiative that is affecting literally hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Is there any good reason the member can think of for not supporting the motion? When she said that it is because it was from the Conservative government, is that something she really feels in her heart to be true?

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, since being elected, I have had the privilege of working for people not only in Windsor—Tecumseh but for people who come to me as the critic for persons living with disabilities. I have to say that it is hard not to be cynical when we see how thorough the consultation has been, when we see how many silos there are operating right now, and when we realize that the 10¢ per Canadian my hon. colleague is proposing is something that can be applied in so many areas besides the autism spectrum.

We need national strategies. We are spinning our wheels. We can be maximizing the resources we have now. The knowledge transfer, the research, and the expanse of knowledge we can be tapping into require a national strategy. It is the role of the federal government to be facilitating that. That is why I believe that moving forward with the expertise makes all the sense in the world, and I cannot understand why we are not doing it.

Opposition Motion—Autism Spectrum DisorderBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just want to salute our member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin for the fight he has taken on for so long and the advocacy he has done for so long for his son and for those who are suffering. Actually, suffering is the wrong term. It is those who have been blessed with autism spectrum disorder. One can only hope we have champions like our colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin to fight for whatever ails us or whatever challenges are in our way. We all owe a debt of gratitude to my colleague.

Mr. Speaker, last week I attended the sixth annual autism walk in my community of Prince George. I met a young gentleman by the name of Eric, who was five years of age and proudly wore a t-shirt that said, “Autism is my superpower”. He is a superhero. He is a rock star in our community. I have another constituent by the name of Cory Walker, who is an incredible advocate for autism spectrum disorder.

Earlier we heard the parliamentary secretary stand up and say that his family has dealt with autism spectrum disorder for more than 16 years, and he is quite satisfied to not support this motion. I can only think that the only reason that gentleman and the government will not support this motion is that it is a Conservative motion. Does our hon. colleague feel the same?